Dáil Éireann - Volume 588 - 24 June, 2004

Written Answers. - Foreign Conflicts.

  67. Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the political situation in Sri Lanka. [18798/04]

  Mr. Cowen: On 23 February 2002, a formal ceasefire agreement was signed with Norwegian facilitation between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, LTTE, and the Sri Lankan Government. Despite the LTTE’s withdrawal from the peace talks on 21 April 2003 and the ongoing political difficulties on the island, the ceasefire has continued to hold. On 4 November 2003, President Kumaratunga relieved three senior Government Ministers of office and personally assumed their powers. President Kumaratunga was reportedly concerned about LTTE proposals on an interim administration for the north and east of the country and claimed that the Government, led by then-Prime Minister Wickramasinghe, was making too many concessions to the LTTE side. She announced that talks with the LTTE had been postponed indefinitely. A state of emergency was declared and Parliament was prorogued for two weeks.

On 8 February 2004, President Kumaratunga dissolved Parliament and called for elections to be held nearly four years ahead of schedule. In the general election which took place on 2 April 2004, President Kumaratunga’s United People’s Freedom Alliance, UPFA, coalition won 46% of the parliamentary seats. This was eight seats short of an overall majority. Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe’s United National Party won only 38%. On 10 April 2004, President Kumara[201] tunga formed a coalition Government with the People’s Liberation Front, JVP. The new Prime Minister is Mahinda Rajapakse of the UPFA.

Following President Kumaratunga’s re-election, in a major policy shift the Government announced in a statement on 9 May 2004 that it now recognises the LTTE as the principal Tamil party for the purposes of negotiating a permanent peace. The statement indicated that peace talks had to be between the two main parties — the government and the LTTE. The LTTE has continued to reaffirm its commitment to the peace process and abide by the terms of the February 2002 ceasefire. During a visit to Sri Lanka by the Norwegian Deputy Foreign Minister on 12 May, the LTTE announced that they had agreed with the Government to restart peace talks.

A co-chairs conference took place in Washington on 17 February 2004 as a follow-up to the June 2003 Tokyo donor’s conference on Sri Lanka. The co-chairs consist of the EU, Japan, the US, and Norway, the last in view of its position as facilitator of the peace process. Co-chairs are responsible for monitoring progress towards peace and advising on actions by the donor community. A further co-chairs conference took place in Brussels on 1 June 2004. Following the conference, the co-chairs emphasised the importance of preserving the gains already made in the peace process and called on both parties in the process to bear in mind the principles of the Tokyo declaration. Stressing that there should be no delay in resuming the peace process, the co-chairs called on donors to stand ready to accelerate the delivery of their Tokyo pledges once properly prepared peace talks have resumed. In a speech on 12 June 2004, President Kumaratunga reaffirmed her Government’s commitment to the ceasefire and to negotiations with the LTTE on preparing an agenda for the recommencement of peace talks.

The EU stands ready to support Sri Lanka in resolving this issue. On 4 November 2003, the Presidency of the European Union, in conjunction with the European Commission, issued a statement urging the parties involved to continue to work together in support of a negotiated political solution. From 24 to 27 November 2003, EU External Relations Commissioner, Mr. Chris Patten, visited Sri Lanka where he held meetings with both Government representatives and the LTTE. An EU election exploratory mission took place from 16 to 19 February and an EU election observation mission was deployed for the elections on 2 April. Through various channels, both Ireland and the EU will continue to take all appropriate opportunities to encourage the parties concerned to bring the peace process to an early, successful conclusion.

Question No. 68 answered with Question No. 33.

Question No. 69 answered with Question No. 28.